The award-winning animator speaks with BFI NETWORK about his fantastically funny short film Absence
You have a very distinct style of animation – are there any artists that inspire you when it comes to your work?
A big inspiration for me when I first started animating was David Shrigley; I love his style and humour and that really spoke to me at the beginning. Recently, I'm inspired by friends that I've made through Vimeo, like Case Jernigan, who are pushing themselves to make some amazing short films just because they have these great stories they need to share.
What do you look for in a collaborator?
I'd love to collaborate more; if you're reading this and like my work, get in touch! I'd really like to start working with a producer and try and find some funds for my next film. It's easy to create an animation by yourself in your own space, but I think working with others can help the projects evolve, and since the release of Absence I've been more active in reaching out to filmmakers I'd like to work with. To date I've only collaborated with one person consistently and that's Ed Weston, who makes the music for my shorts. Ed is an extremely gifted musician, and when I come to him with my scripts he's always up for it and never bats an eyelid at the surreal ideas I throw at him.
How did you make Absence?
It started with the first few lines of what became the final poem. I had it in my mind for years but never thought it was something I could do anything with as it was too short, even for me. But after a year of directing corporate videos about ‘the cloud’ I really needed to get back to creating my own stuff, and the fact that the opening lines had stayed with me for so long meant I was on to something worthwhile.
So I wrote the opening lines down and worked on building the list of things that heartache makes you do... that also rhymed with ‘longer’. Once the poem was finished I recorded the voice over with Ed, then just got to work animating each line. I didn't storyboard anything. I would just take each line and see what visuals came to mind.
What was the biggest challenge of making the film, and how did you overcome that?
It's a cliché but the biggest challenge is always getting started. Drawing that first scene. Once I cracked that everything else just flowed, more or less. For Absence I also struggled with what to draw for the ‘romcom’ line. There are a lot of unused drawings of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan on my desktop because of that line.
Do you think that showcasing your film at festivals is beneficial?
Totally. I'm fortunate that my work has done well online – my last four animations have had Vimeo Staff Picks, and because of that opportunities come my way. But for Absence this didn't happen initially, so I started sending it out to festivals. It's been really fun, seeing it on the big screen and getting the live audience’s reaction. I think having Absence screen at a festival also gives it more industry credit; it's no longer just a fun thing off the internet, and you can meet people face to face. The great thing is you can do both: put it online and in festivals.
Why do you think that comedy is important in filmmaking?
There's this idea that comedy doesn't get the recognition it deserves, maybe because some great comedies get overlooked during awards shows like the Oscars, but that's not been my experience in general. People love to laugh and comedies really stand out at film festivals in-between the dramas. Comedy also lets you tackle some heavier ideas but not get too depressing. Quite a few people have told me how they could really relate to the heartbroken character in Absence.
What are your aspirations for filmmaking moving forward?
I'm extremely excited about creating my next couple of films. My animating skills are always improving and I'm currently working on two great scripts that I think could become great films. They build on the mood of Absence, but I'm moving away from spoken word for one of them. They will be longer too: I want to finally break the five-minute mark (take that The Irishman!). I can't wait to make them and share them with the world.
Watch Alex's short film Absence here.